Comparison of Internet forum software

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This article outlines the general features commonly found in various Internet forum software packages. It highlights major features that the manager of a forum might want and should expect to be commonly available in different forum software. These comparisons do not include remotely hosted services which use their own proprietary software, rather than offering a package for download which webmasters can host by themselves.

General information[edit]

Basic general information about the forums: creator/company, license/price etc.

Creator Latest release date Current stable version Programming language License
bbPress [1] WordPress Foundation 2015-08-18 2.5.8 PHP[2] GPL[3]
Beehive Forum [4] Project Beehive Forum Developers 2015-06-04 1.4.7 PHP GPL
Discourse [5] Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc. 2015-10-19 1.4.2 Ruby, Javascript GPL
Discuz! [6] Comsenz Inc. 2013-09-23 X3.2 PHP Discuz! EULA (proprietary, gratis for non-commercial use)
eXo Platform [7] eXo Platform SAS 2016-01-15 4.3.0 Java LGPL
FluxBB [8] FluxBB.org Developers 2016-06-16 1.5.10 PHP GPL
FUDforum [9] Advanced Internet Designs Inc. 2016-01-28[10] 3.0.7[10] PHP GPL
Ikonboard [11] Matt Mecham (original creator) Joshua Johnson 2012-10-19 3.1.5A Perl Proprietary
Invision Power Board [12] Invision Power Services Inc. 2016-04-24 4.1.11 PHP Proprietary
MyBB [13] MyBB Group 2016-03-11 1.8.7 PHP LGPL, moving to BSD in 2.0[14]
Phorum [15] Brian Moon 2015-06-19 5.2.20 PHP Phorum License 2 (BSD like)
PHPWind [16] Hangzhou Detian Information Technology Co. Ltd 2014-12-23 9.0.1 PHP PHPWind EULA (proprietary, gratis for non-commercial use)
phpBB [17] phpBB Ltd. 2016-04-17 3.1.9 PHP GPL
PunBB [18] PunBB 2015-10-14 1.4.4 PHP GPL
Simple Machines Forum [19] Simple Machines 2016-02-17 / 2015-09/19[20] 2.0.11 / 2.1b2[20] PHP BSD License
Syndie [21] Anonymous (related to I2P) 2014-01-20 1.105b Java Open source, multiple licenses
UBB.threads [22] UBB Systems, LLC 2015-01-27 7.5.9 PHP Proprietary
Vanilla Forums [23] Vanilla Forums 2015-11-12 2.2 PHP Proprietary/GPL[24]
vBulletin[25] vBulletin Solutions Inc. 2016-04-07 5.2.1[26] PHP[27] Proprietary[28]
WoltLab Burning Board [29] WoltLab GmbH 2016-03-13 4.1.10 PHP Proprietary
XenForo [30] XenForo Ltd. 2016-05-24 1.5.8 PHP Proprietary
AsmBB John Found 2016-04-19 1.2 x86 assembly language EUPL v1.1 [31]
Creator Latest release date Current stable version Programming language License

Features[edit]

Flat Threaded User selectable themes Calendar Image attachment Unread message tracking WYSIWYG Editor Export, portability Email / NNTP interface Languages SSO
bbPress Yes Yes No No Plugin Plugin Yes (using TinyMCE) Plugin (server-side[32]) Plugin[33][34] Yes[35]
Beehive Forum Yes Yes Yes No Yes Full Yes (using TinyMCE) Partial (only PM[36]) No
Discourse Yes Yes No No Yes Full No Partial (admin-only to CSV[37][38]) Partial (formatting issues[39]) No[40][41] Yes (OAuth)
Discuz! Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
eXo Platform Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Partial (admin-only, also per-category;[42] plugin?[43]) No[44]
FluxBB Yes No Yes No Plugin Session No Yes[45]
FUDforum Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Full Yes Partial (for admins[46]) Yes (native NNTP gateway[47]) Yes[48]
Iko Yes No Yes No Planned Yes Yes
Ikonboard Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Session No No[49]
Invision Power Board Yes Yes Yes Plugin Yes Full Yes No[50] No[51]
MyBB[52] Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Full Yes Maybe (thread export using an old mod[53]) Plugin (1.4.x)[54][55] Yes[56]
Phorum Yes Yes Yes No Yes Full Yes Plugin[57] No[58]
phpBB[59] Yes No Yes Plugin Yes Full Planned No[60] Partial (phpBB2 mod[61][62]) Yes[63] Yes (LDAP, OAuth, others)[64]
PunBB[65] Yes Plugin Yes Plugin Plugin Session Plugin No[66][67]
Simple Machines Forum Yes No Yes Yes Yes Full Yes Partial (PM[68]) Plugin (old)[69] Yes[70]
Syndie Yes Yes No No Yes Full Yes No[71]
UBB.threads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Full Planned (Version 8.0) No[72] No
Vanilla Forums Yes Plugin Yes No Plugin Yes Plugin Partial (attachments[73] or admin-only [74]) No[75] Yes[76][77]
vBulletin[78] Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Full Yes Partial (plugin,[79] vB 4[80]) No No[81]
WoltLab Burning Board[82] Yes Yes Yes Plugin Yes Full Yes No[83]
XenForo Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Full Yes No[84] No[85]
AsmBB Yes No No No No Full No No No No No
Flat Threaded User selectable themes Calendar Image attachment Unread message tracking WYSIWYG Editor Export, portability Email / NNTP interface Languages SSO

Data storage[edit]

Information about what data storage system can be used.

MySQL PostgreSQL MSSQL Oracle SQLite Firebird Flat file
bbPress[2] Yes No No No No No No
Beehive Forum Yes No No No No No No
Discourse No Yes No No No No No
Discuz! Yes Yes No No No No No
eXo Platform Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No
FluxBB Yes Yes No No SQLite 2[86] No No
FUDforum Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Iko Yes No No No No No No
Ikonboard Yes Yes No Yes No No Yes
Invision Power Board Yes No Discontinued [87] No No No No
kusaba Yes No No No No No No
MyBB[52] Yes Yes No No Yes No No
Phorum Yes No No No No No No
phpBB[59] Yes v8.2 or newer[88][89] Yes Yes Yes Discontinued No
PunBB[65] Yes Yes No No Yes No No
Simple Machines Forum Yes Yes No No Yes No No
Syndie Yes (HSQLDB) No No No No No No
UBB.threads Yes No No No No No No
Vanilla Forums Yes No No No No No No
vBulletin[78] Yes No No No No No No
WoltLab Burning Board[90] Yes No No No No No No
XenForo Yes No No No No No No
AsmBB No No No No Yes No No
MySQL PostgreSQL MSSQL Oracle SQLite Firebird Flat file

Feature explanation[edit]

Below is a brief explanation for each of the features compared in the subarticles. For a forum to qualify for a feature, the functionality must be available out of the box, not as an add-on, plugin, etc.

Flat vs. threaded[edit]

  • A flat forum is one where each message is added onto the end of the discussion, with no set relation to any prior messages (other than being on the same discussion topic — except in case of Off-Topic posting). But, there is normally a feature to 'quote' another user's post, to allow referencing back to other posts.
  • A threaded forum is one where users can specify their message is a reply to an existing message. Threaded forums can display relationships between message topics and associated replies, such as by indenting replies and placing them below the post they reference. Threaded forums are most commonly used for discussions where individual messages tend to be short, such as on social news sites (e.g. Slashdot or reddit), or in commenting systems like Disqus.

Duplicate thread prevention[edit]

Many users do not bother to search a forum and directly create new threads to seek an answer to a question. On some forums, when the user types a new thread subject, the forum software brings up similar threads automatically on the side. This helps keep the number of redundant threads (or the overall forum pollution) to a lower level as users who neglect to search for a topic and are posting a thread may find the answer to their question as they are creating the new thread. Instead of having to search the forum, and then creating a thread if there is no satisfying answer, duplicate thread prevention allows the user to go and seek the answer to a topic. An example is Stack Overflow.

User-selectable themes[edit]

Most forums provide an option for the forum owner to customize the look and feel. Some forums also allow the administrator to create multiple styles or themes, and allow the user to choose which one they wish to view. Themes may simply be a different set of colors and graphics, or they may involve a different layout to the forum, such as one optimized for small-screen devices.

Calendar[edit]

Some forums provide calendar functionality for storing events and appointments, either per-user or as a forum-wide shared calendar.

Image attachments[edit]

Most forums provide the option for a user to upload an image along with a message posting. This is usually accompanied by a space limit (e.g. 1MB per user) to prevent users from filling up the forum host's webspace. Some forums also allow other types of files to be uploaded. Some allow inline linking to images hosted on image hosting services.

One major usability issue is whether images can be uploaded to a forum and displayed inline in message postings easily (or at all). The presence of "image attachment uploading" does not imply that in-message display of images within the flow of message text is possible (or if possible, easy to achieve).

Unread message tracking[edit]

Unread message tracking refers to the way that is used by forum software to track and display messages that have not yet been read by the current user. This can be one of the following:

  • Session — when a user's session starts, this method relies on the user's "last visit time" to display all messages created since that date as unread. Everything that was posted before "last visit time" is considered "read" regardless of whether the user has actually seen it or not. Until the user's session expires, this method properly tracks read/unread messages, starting with messages that were selected as "unread" when the user's session started. This method is broadly used, due to the simplicity and speed benefits of only storing and checking against a single database value.
  • Full — forum software which properly tracks what messages have been read or unread by each user, regardless of user session expiration. Some forum software also allows the user to 'mark as unread', so that they can come back to a message later.

Forum spam defenses[edit]

Most forums are at risk of continuous attack by forum spammers, largely promoting websites with no relevance to the forum's niche. Systems vary in how they are geared to defense, and checking the offering is an important consideration before selection. A forum cannot succeed unless there is an effective system of defense, and an efficient set of tools for spam removal.

CAPTCHAs are a common feature used among most internet forum software and are often used to prevent automated registrations.

Banning or deleting membership should come as standard, with the ability to blacklist the username, email address or IP address for variable time spans.

Reference to an anti-forum spam database can be built into the forum software, or offered as add-ons for specific databases.

User-friendly URLs[edit]

Main article: Semantic URL

Human-friendly forum URLs do not have a query string and instead contain only the path of the topic. A user-unfriendly URL may contain cryptic parameters, numeric IDs, or file type extensions (e.g. .php) that do not matter to the user and could change if the forum is reimplemented using a different programming language. User-friendly URLs are easy to remember and to type, and may enhance search engine optimization (SEO).

  • user-unfriendly URL example: http://example.com/forum/index.php?t=rview&th=120029
  • user-friendly URL example: http://example.com/usability-issues/user-friendly-urls

In general this is accomplished via URL mapping, however, historically in many forum software packages, human-friendly URLs are an afterthought implemented via URL rewriting, and URLs often contain a numeric ID which represents the thread, while the remainder of the URL can in reality be any string: http://example.com/forum/12345/lets-use-friendly-urls and http://example.com/forum/12345/bogus-path-actually point to the same thread, http://example.com/forum/12345/.

The only non-controversial counter-argument to using user-friendly URLs is that they would be leaked in the HTTP referer header field when a user clicks on an external link from a post, which is undesirable for private (sub)forums, since a URL derived from the topic title could convey sensitive information.[91] This issue can be resolved by rewriting external links to point to a redirection page that performs referer hiding.

Export, portability[edit]

This column judges the ability to allow users to export data from the forum installation and then import it in new installations of the same software (cf. right to fork) or feed it to data conversion tools.

Software portability is a key assessment criterion for the choice and procurement of software.[92]

Email/NNTP interface[edit]

Whether the software can be used with standard Email or NNTP clients. Adoption of standard protocols is key for interoperability.[93]

Languages[edit]

Whether the internationalization and localization of the software are sufficient to both allow and actually provide grammatically correct support for the native language of the target users.[94]

For the purposes of this table, we consider languages used by an amount of installations/users equal to at least 1% of the top million web properties using that software,[95] without major reported bugs in support.

Single sign-on[edit]

Single sign-on (SSO) is often required to enhance web accessibility of the application.[96]

As for implementation, standards like OAuth and OpenID are preferred.

References[edit]

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